New Format and things I like…………..


Any old readers, returning to this blog, will notice that I have dumped the old format of Black and Red. It worked well for awhile but as the number of posts grew it became unmanageable. So I have trotted out a new format.

I haven’t posted in a dogs age. Instead I have been compiling everything I have written and expanding the material for a book. This, unfortunately is not as fun or easy as tossing a blog up onto the web.  Feel free to send comments on the idea of a book and what should be included.

Well that’s enough blather, on to today’s subject – listening to cool bands.

So far all of my postings have dealt with the mechanics of being in a band and promoting yourself up the food chain. I haven’t spent much time writing about music. Music, is, of course, central to the whole damn experience of being in a band. In some of my early blogs I posted what I was listening to as I was writing. I did that to, hopefully, turn people on to cool bands that they hadn”t heard.

A large part of being in a successful band is writing undeniably cool music. Even if you are gunning to be the next Madonna you need to understand cool music and have a good grounding of all the rock gods that have come before.  The more you listen to music the greater the spread of your tastes should become. For me this is certainly the truth. I have been steadily listening to music since 1966 and I am still finding cool things that are new to me.  If you only listen to your favorite band and the half dozen other bands that sound like them you are doomed to writing music that is derivative and likely boring. Your influences are like a color pallet is to a painter. You need many colors and influences in order to have depth and art to your music. You can argue that Picasso painted cubist masterpieces with one basic color scheme. You would be correct.  If you are the equivalent of Picasso in his blue period then you don’t need my advice on influences. Of course Picasso traveled through the history of painting and explored color and light and perspective masterfully before he decided to reinvent art by becoming a cubist.  If you ever had the great fortune to meet Picasso and ask him how to be a great painter, and he answered your question (he was notorious for being cryptic). He would likely tell you to teach yourself the history of art.  It’s the same in music. You need to know the past in order to forge ahead.

So my advice in today’s blog is to learn to listen to new things. Be aggressive about it. Dig into the info on bands you love and find out what their influences were. Then listen to those bands/artists. This will take you down new paths that will provide inspiration.

In my next blog I will post a list of some great bands that you may or may not know. It’s impossible to be comprehensive but the list may introduce you to a few names that you have never heard. I also encourage every reader to post band names in the comment section. DO NOT POST YOUR OWN BAND! That’s a cheap trick and we reserve cheap tricks for me.

© 2012 Brad Morrison/ Billiken Media

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Lesson #16 How to create an all ages show (pt 1)………..


I’ve been writing this blog for one month. So far I’ve written more than twenty posts and remarkably, I’ve had thousands of readers. As the blog starts to take shape I am struck by the fact that my blog posts seem to be naturally grouping themselves into a couple of basic categories.

It seems that I am writing posts for complete beginners or for bands that are a little farther up the food chain and need advice about the nuts and bolts of dealing with a particular problem that confronts the band. Fortunately both of these types of posts draw on the same set of experiences and skills. During my twenty five years of working in the music business I stayed on the side of musicians. Even when I owned an indy label my viewpoint was based on what was good for the musician.  Now as I try to explain what I have learned to all of you I am starting to see a structure to what I’m doing.

I will be rebuilding the site. I plan on having a section for beginners, for those of you that are just forming your first band and need the basics explained.  I’m happy to do this job and in many ways the basics are important no matter how far along you have gotten.

Once I set up a separate section for posts for beginners then I can have another section for advice for established bands with more complex problems relating to deals, promotions, record producers etc.  Perhaps I should have some kind of symbol at the beginning of each blog to let you know what level the blog fits in.  Let me know what you think…

OK that’s the end of site administration kind of issues. Today’s post will be intended for really young bands. I will cover the basics of how you go about setting up an all ages show in your hometown. This might be a boring post for any band that’s out playing in the real world. If that’s you just skip it and read the post about publishing royalties or how to find a manager.

————————–

OK, I’m assuming that, the reader, is underaged or your band’s main audience is underaged kids. Good for you. Some of the best shows I have ever seen were all ages shows where young people get to go nuts and slam dance.  Now I’ll admit it – I’m am older than the hills. I’m old enough, in fact, to remember slam dancing being invented as a new thing.  Even though i’m old I still believe that no matter what your age you can still SUCCEED AT ROCK.

If you are a young manager or a young band one of the first things you should do is set up an all ages show.  I’m gonna explain how to do this. I will assume that you KNOW NOTHING. If this blog sounds like I’m treating you like an idiot just put up with it. Some of the people that read this won’t know anything about the music business or setting up a show and if I don’t explain everything they won’t be able to get it done.

So you’ve got a band and you need a place to play. Excellent. This is relatively easy. 

I started playing in bands when I was eleven. It was before the invention of eating and sex. Yes, I’m that old. When I was young and in a band our main problem was having a place to play.  It’s the same problem that you have. Things never change. I solved the problem and so can you.

At first what we did was throw parties when someone’s parents went out.  This works Ok but most times the cops would break up the party, shit would get broken and both the kid that hosted the party and some of the band members got in big trouble with their parents.  I still remember our bass players annoying mother grounding him for three months. This really screwed up our practices and was completely unnecessary.  Parents don’t seem to understand that musicians don’t cause trouble. They make lots of noise, of course they do for God’s sake, the noise is called music. But musicians don’t bust up a house, don’t steal shit, don’t get a party busted. You know why? ‘Cause every kid in every band is happy to have a place to play for other people. Rehearsing with your buddies is cool but it’s just not anywhere’s as cool as playing for a huge number of slam dancing fools that have traveled from all over to be at your gig.

So parties are cool and that may very well be your first gig but to really have a band you gotta play a real gig. The best plan is to set up an all ages show.  The term All Ages Show is just another word for a big party that’s legal and isn’t held at someone’s house.

Now you’re not going to believe this but the best way to go about this is to get some adults involved and on your side.  Everyone knows that there are cool adults and uncool adults. The key to getting an all ages club running is to get some help at just the right time from the right kind of adult.  I’ll say more about this later.

So let’s get started.  In the beginning of the process you want to keep EVERYTHING SECRET.  This will change soon since secrets always get out and that’s ok. Setting up the show is all about helping out your band, right? Of course it is. That’s why you start out by making a list of all the other bands in your town/neighborhood/alternate dimension.  Sit down and write-up a list. What you are trying to do is figure out if there are two other bands that are almost as good as your band.  If you set up a show with just your band then anything that goes wrong will be your problem. If no one shows up it’s your fault. If the town is destroyed in a nuclear explosion it’ll get blamed on your band.

So what you’re trying to do here is set up a show where your band plays in the best slot, most likely 2nd or 3rd.  For that you are gonna need other bands. These other bands will also help to get the shit together that you’ll need to make the show happen.

After you pick out the other bands the next step is to scout out locations for the show.  It must still be a secret at this stage. It’s important so remember it.  Don’t tell anyone, especially girlfriends. If you break this rule the whole thing will blow up in your face.

So scout around the area where you live. You are looking for places like these:

1.Freemason’s Hall

2.Kinights of Columbus Hall

3.VFW Hall

4.CYO Hall

5. Unused storefronts

6. Town Park youth centers

7. Old factory space, look for areas called Industrial Park

8. Old church

What you are looking for is a space that can hold about 200 kids, has electricity and at least TWO BATHROOMS. Ideally you want to have two or three options when you start trying to set it up.  To do this will take a lot of work. Be prepared for that. In the end it will be worth it since it will really get your band off the ground and it will also make you the coolest person in town.

 So now you have your list of a couple possible places to play and a bunch of bands to have on the bill.  Now one point I need to make about doing this show. Booking a show is not a democracy! You cannot do something like this by setting up a committee and having everyone vote on the best thing to do. Take it from me. That will not work and in the end you will do all the work and some fool will ruin the whole thing because they are jealous they are not in charge.

Once people hear that you are gonna set up a show everyone will come to you with stupid ideas and try to elbow their way in. Be prepared. That’s why it’s important to keep it a secret at first.

If the place you find is one of the Halls at the beginning of the list then the next step is to find out the name of the person that handles renting the hall. Call the person and get the rate(how much they charge) to rent the hall for one night. Ask how many hours that the rental covers.Ask if there is a stage. Ask if there is a sound system and if so how many channels it has.  Ask if there are any RESTRICTIONS on what can be done with the rental.  Ask if there are any cleaning fees. Ask if the hall must be rented in advance and if so how long in advance. Ask if there is a penalty to cancel a rental.Ask if the hall has tables and chairs and if so, how many of each. ASK IF THERE ARE TWO BATHROOMS. And finally ask if the hall requires the renter to “carry any insurance.” If they say yes don’t worry I’ll get to explaining how to deal with that.

If the person you are talking to get suspicious and wants to know what you are doing say you are looking for a rental for “a youth group for a meeting, raffle and dance”. This sounds innocent and should pacify their fears.

When you think you have found a place that might rent to you and has the basics stop and think about what it would be like to have the place swamped with kids. Is the hall next door to the police station? Is it next door to an old folks home? If the place is located in an area where a full on rock show might make too much noise and will end up with people complaining don’t worry. If that’s the main problem look into the town’s noise laws. To do this go to the library and ask the librarian to help you find the “Town ordinance on noise”. They will find the law. Read it, it’s written in English, in all likelihood it will say that most weeknight’s 8 or 9 is the cutoff and weekends 11pm. As long as your show ends before the cutoff you’ve got no problems. The neighbors can complain, the cops can get all coplike and still no one can do anything. Make yourself a copy of the law you may need it on the night of the show.

Since I’ve brought up cops I might as well talk about that part now. YOUR SHOW WILL ATTRACT COPS, ACCEPT THIS AS A FACT.  When the cops show up treat them with respect. Answer their questions. Be extremely polite. Don’t argue.  The best way to speak to a cop is to ask innocent questions that put them on the spot. They WILL TRY TO INTIMIDATE YOU! DON’T LET THEM. I have dealt face to face with cops countless times and never have I gotten busted.  In general the cops will be out to do two things, shut down your show and bust kids for normal stupid things like smoking pot or having illegal alcohol.  As the promoter the cops will actually treat you with respect because they will see someone that is in charge. The cooler and calmer that you are the more the cops will accept the fact that you ACTUALLY HAVE THE SITUATION UNDER CONTROL. If your show has turned into a riot then you actually will be happy the cops are there.  If not you will talk to them and they will go away.(actually they will probably park near by and stalk the show like a bunch of nerdy kids that can’t get into the party)

To finish off the cop section remember. You have a right to peaceably assemble and that includes making lots of noise within certain hours.  What you are doing is legal. Act like you are a businessman and they will treat you with respect. They are trained to intimidate idiots and treat business people with respect.  If you are running your show in a public park or something you will have the permits and have scoped out the rules ahead of time. DON”T LET THEM SHUT DOWN YOUR SHOW. Don’t ever issue a threat to a cop like “I’m gonna sue you! or I’ll get you fired!”  this will piss them off and they will shut down your show.  If the cops issue an order like “You will shut this show down now!” Obey it.  You have no choice but you do have a right to ask as many questions as you can think of.  If you do get shut down (it’s happened to me four times)  Start setting up the next show the next day. Then start writing letters to the local newspapers and calling the local cable news reporters. They love to take the side of kids trying to have fun. It’s great press and will keep the cops in their place on the next show.

Another hassle like cops is the fire department. They will often turn up and try to shut you down. They are extremely easy to deal with.  They are only interested in a few things.

1. Are the fire exits blocked. Duh! Don’t block the fire exits.

2. Are all the fire extinguishers intact.

3. Is the show over capacity?  The room will have a sign that says “Occupancy by more than two trillion people is illegal” or something like that.  This number is the law and it’s deadly serious. Don’t oversell a show. If you do the town can ban your operation permanently. The number INCLUDES the band, sound man, crew, bouncers etc. so be careful.  Now the last thing is simple. If the fire chief shows up looking all important  you show him the WRITTEN COUNT. You count every kid that goes in the door and keep writing it down. The easiest way is to have one of those hand counters that you click every time you let someone in.  When the fire chief shows up you show him the count and then invite him to inspect the show. If you’re smart he’ll be in and out in five minutes. If they see that you respect the fire code they will leave you alone.

End of Part one…………….. I think this post should be around three parts…….

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

Lesson #10 How to Find a Manager ( or how to be one) (pt 1)


Note: Please don’t copy and paste my blogs into emails to friends. Please send them to my blog the old fashioned way via a link. Hits make me giddy.


I guess it is inevitable that I got around to this topic earlier rather than later. For a band management is the key to success. By management I mean a guiding light, a sense of purpose, a game plan, tactical response as a course of action and a broad concerted effort to take the band in one general direction. For most bands just starting out getting a manager is an impossibility. You may be surprised to find out that this problem can continue even though a band ends up with a record deal and gets tours. There are always lots more bands than managers. This seems to be an immutable law of nature. So the question starts out as ‘which bands get managers’?
[Peter Gabriel “Here comes the flood”]
Very quickly it becomes ‘which bands get good managers’? I’ll try to answer these questions in some kind of erratic random disjointed manner. Helpful huh? Let’s look at some real world case studies.
[Neil Young ” A Man Needs a Maid”]

1. Miracle Legion and me. Miracle Legion was just starting out although the band leaders were well known in the Connecticut scene and had played in successful bands. I was a promoter, had already managed one artist and was a DJ. We knew each other. (Gee isn’t funny how all of these stories involve people knowing each other rather then meeting through random demos sent through a great uncle’s elementary school teacher’s friend?) I approached Miracle Legion because I heard a hit in their set, a song called the Backyard. I was right. The record sold and sold and was licensed and sold.The record would be selling today if the lead singer wouldn’t fight with me every time I try to remaster it for I tunes. I also saw in them a band with ambition and connections. I felt I could use their connections to expand my already large pool of contacts. I was right. Through Miracle Legion I made Legions of friends. The list covers people like Bjork and Michael Stipe and continues on through tons of labels like Rough Trade, Mute, 4AD, RCA, Warners, Atlantic etc. and even covers lots of great producers and writers. I used Miracle Legion shamelessly and they used me back. I landed everything a band could want for the band and I also was careful to make sure they had a fuckin’ blast along the way. I only wish I had taken more pictures. The reason I didn’t take more pictures is that pictures are known as “EVIDENCE” in the music business and that’s not always a good thing. Lesson to be learned here – make connections, lots of them, meet everyone that you can, always. These connections will attract young, up and coming managers. These are often the best choice for a band.
[Stiff Little Fingers “Alternative Ulster”]
To further illustrate that point I’ll use another Miracle Legion story. Miracle Legion’s Backyard EP had run its course and the band was now searching for the next step. (I believe that this was ’86) They were booked at CBGB’s as a headliner. They played a great set to a packed house. After they had pried a few dollars out of Hilly the owner they started loading the van in front of the club. There was tons of fans hanging around and one guy was being particularly pesky. Someone in the band said ” If you’re gonna hang around then at least help!” So this guy started humping amps from the doorway to the van. When they finished someone else said ” We’re going to get something to eat. You comin’ along.” The guy hopped into the van and joined the tour which was heading to Boston, Northampton and then points West.

 

                                                                                                                         [Stevie Wonder “Living for the City”]

 

 

I wasn’t managing the band at this point although I was managing other artists. This was one of the two periods in the 80’s and 90’s when I had been “fired” for having the temerity to think for myself.
Two days after the CBGB’s gig, which I had been at, the phone rings, quite early. It’s London.
“Hi this is Janette Lee. Is Brad there? ” Holy shit! I think. THE JEANNETTE LEE? Member of the infamous band PIL with Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols?
“Yeah that’s me.”
“I’m partners in a UK label called Rough Trade Records. You’ve probably never heard of it. I had only been sending them packages for five years at that point…”She’s kidding right? ” but I’ve got a problem. Our co-owner and founder is missing. He hasn’t called his wife in two days. It’s most unusual. The last time he was heard from he was going to a club to see a band you manage Miracle Legion. Have you seen him?”

                                                                                                                    [Fairport Convention “Tam Lin”]

The band had mistakenly kidnapped the owner of the hippest record label on the planet. Within a week they had signed a deal and I was back managing them.

2. Phish and John. I won’t use his name so I can at least be a little more honest. Phish met John because he was the local college herb salesman. They recognized in him a wicked smart businessman that was dead honest. Good combination. When they dangled the carrot of rock money in front of him he cautiously bought in. He didn’t have a clue how to manage a band. He made it up as he went along based on common sense rules. This helped him rather than hindered him. Remember Rock is the land of reinvention. Everything you see in the rock world was made up by people posing as businessmen. I’ve worked in the real business world. Most of the people in the rock business are wash outs from the real world of business. The rock business world is a joke from a business stand point. It is only really serious about taking risks and trying to define culture.
[Creation “Pass the Paintbrush Please”]
Phish are a great case study because the music business has hated them since the beginning and they have thrived. This proves that you do not need the Music Business to be a successful band. Ask Ani DeFranco. In the case of Phish and John you have a talented aggressive businessman and a band that wanted to do it their own way. Lesson here? Talented amateurs often succeed at management.

3. Danny and Rosemary and Nirvana and Hole. Jeez where do I get started on this one. Danny, when he signed Nirvana was already a major name in the business. He was married to Rosemary, one of the most genuine well intentioned people in the music business. She also happened to be a great lawyer as well. Nice person, with a heart and a lawyer, a rare thing. Rosemary and Danny had great taste and often Danny found his management clients through Rosemary’s client list. I believe that’s how they met Kurt. So this is a classic case of a band finding a big New York lawyer and this puts them on the path to the top. But what you can’t see unless you were there at the time is that both Rosemary and Danny knew everyone in the underground rock business. Rosemary bailed a drummer out of jail for me in 88. I knew her for years at that point. Her ex husband was the poet Jim Carroll, may he rest in peace. So you see Rosemary was an active member of the SCENE in New York in the late 70’s. In the music business it is always people you meet early on that help you out later. So the real lesson here is to make connections, lots of them and KEEP IN TOUCH. Let me follow that with saying that one ironclad rule in the music business is never call someone unless you have something REAL to talk about.
                                                                                 [Pixies – “Bone Machine”]
When Nirvana signed with Warners the Seattle scene had been hot for a decade. I had already managed and dropped Jim Basnight one of the Seattle proto punkers fifteen years earlier by the time Nirvana got signed. Once again here is a band making it big with a regional scene as a springboard.

My last post was brutally long. So I will break this one up into sections.                                                  
        [ War “Bolero Live”]